The co-location situation

Moskowitz and charter allies prepare to take their public fight statewide

In sharp contrast to the collaborative strategy drawn up last week by some charter school leaders, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and her allies are preparing for a public battle as they anticipate unfavorable decisions from the de Blasio administration.

The fight includes a newly unveiled public relations campaign, a quickly evolving lobbying strategy, and preparation for potential legal action. While the past few months of protests and rallies have focused on influencing City Hall, the new efforts (and a rally next Tuesday) will target state lawmakers.

“It has become clear that we must turn to Albany for the leadership to save our schools and protect our scholars’ right to a meaningful, high-quality education,” Moskowitz told the board members of her network’s 22 schools this morning in an email obtained by Chalkbeat.

On their minds is the status of dozens of co-location plans, many of which include new charter schools, that were approved last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to review each of those proposals and decisions are expected to be released soon.

But Moskowitz is already assuming it won’t be good news for at least some of the 10 schools that Success had gotten approval to open next year. If the lobbying tactics don’t work, she said, she will sue.

“Despite our repeated efforts to reach out to this administration, we expect to hear announcements in the next two weeks that a few of our approved schools will not be allowed to open or grow,” Moskowitz said in the email. “As soon as these rollbacks/reversals are announced, we will notify you and plan to take the appropriate legal action.”

The nonprofit advocacy organization Families for Excellent Schools, which works closely with parents of Success and other charter schools, also announced today that it is paying for a series of multi-million dollar broadcast commercials.

FES is also organizing a large rally in Albany next week with the aim of convincing state lawmakers to offer more support for charter schools. Organizers said they expect 2,000 parents and advocates to attend.

Success Academy, as it has done in the past, will bring some of its 22-school network’s 6,700 students. “Buses will be loaded by grade, and we will teach lessons in Civics while on the road,” Moskowitz said in the email.

This week’s developments come just days after Moskowitz and other charter leaders met with Chancellor Carmen Fariña, but learned nothing about de Blasio’s plans for next year’s co-locations.

Moskowitz is now taking a much different tone than the leaders of 27 other charter schools, who said ahead of the meeting that they wanted to forge a working relationship with de Blasio and Fariña. That group is mostly made up of independent charter schools, some of which are unionized, that have partnerships with community-based organizations.

This is just the latest clash between Moskowitz and de Blasio, who have been at odds on education since their days in the City Council. Their interests have collided since de Blasio won the mayoral election after pledging to “stop” the Success network, which opened in 2006 and thrived under the Bloomberg administration.

While students in Success schools regularly outscore both charter and district schools on state tests, de Blasio has repeatedly raised questions about whether Success enrolls as many low-performing and high-need students as nearby district schools. Other critics have said that some charter schools, including Success, don’t do a good enough job “back filling” empty seats with new students.

Amid de Blasio’s criticism, the rally is another sign that charter school supporters now believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature are their most important allies. Recent campaign filings show that Cuomo’s reelection campaign has received nearly $800,000 from Success board members and other charter school funders.

The decisions about next year’s co-location plans are in de Blasio’s and Fariña’s hands. But Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Association, said there are several ways that legislative action could help charter schools, starting with extra funding in the budget, which will be negotiated over the next month.  

“Conversations are going on that look at all the possible ways to make sure that charters continue to flourish and that the 90,000 kids they serve continue to have a choice of a great public school,” Phillips said.
Here’s Moskowitz’s full email:

Board members,

I want to update you and share news of decisive action we are taking to protect our schools. As you know from our meetings and the press clips we have shared, the mayor continues to play politics with our scholars’ futures. This is unacceptable. Despite our repeated efforts to reach out to this administration, we expect to hear announcements in the next two weeks that a few of our approved schools will not be allowed to open or grow. This would be tragic, unfair, and we believe, illegal. As soon as those rollbacks/reversals are announced, we will notify you and plan to take the appropriate legal action. Read today’s editorial in the New York Post, “Opting for Failure.” 

It has become clear that we must turn to Albany for the leadership to save our schools and protect our scholars’ right to a meaningful, high-quality education. On Tuesday, March 4, Success Academy will be joining with charter parents across the city for a PARENT RALLY IN ALBANY.  

Even though our schools will be closed for the rally, we plan to take Success Academy on the road! Buses will be loaded by grade, and we will teach lessons in Civics while on the road. The march and rally at the Capitol will start around mid-day. Parents, teachers, and community leaders will speak and we will deliver letters to our elected officials. It will be a critical moment for Success Academy.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Participate. Come to the rally! Email Kathleen (REDACTED) if you are able to attend.

Stay informed. Join me for an early morning call this Friday, February 28 at 7:30 am. I can answer any questions you may have about the rollbacks, the rally, and other advocacy and communications efforts. Look out for a calendar invite.

Spread the word. Families for Excellent Schools (FES) has launched a new advocacy campaign at www.ChartersWork.org. They will be airing this ad in support of NYC charters and educational choice, starting today. Please share it widely, using #ChartersWork.

Thank you for your leadership and support.

Warmly,

Eva

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.